On our road trip around the ring road in Iceland it happened more than once, that we spotted an amazing waterfall, tried driving up to it and then noticed that we couldn’t get there because it was simply someones private backyard. Incredible waterfalls, ranging from unique, cascade waterfalls to tall, thundering masses of water are everywhere in Iceland, left and right along the road, behind farms and splashing down mountains. Some belong to the highest waterfalls in the world and sometimes, you can even go inside the waterfall.
Anywhere else they would be a national tourist attraction with a big parking lot out front, but in Iceland, waterfalls are simply a common sight.
I saw lots of falls during my week on the island, and I didn’t always have time to stop and take pictures, but I found a few that I immensely enjoyed photographing. Of course, it’s always difficult to figure out what angle works best, how to get there or what equipment to bring, so in this article, I’ll explain a bit more about the waterfalls, where you can find them and how to best photograph them.
Remember, this is by no means a complete list of all the best waterfalls in Iceland, but just a few that I enjoyed and think photograph really well. Also, make sure to check out my article on everything you have to know about waterfall photography, to make sure you capture them with the right equipment and settings.
Folaldafoss: A Unique and Off the Beaten Path Waterfall in Eastern Iceland
Just south of Egilsstaðir, we had the choice to either follow the ring road (Route 1) hugging the coast line, or take a shortcut on the unpaved route 939 over the Öxi mountain pass. A bit pressed for time, we chose route 939 and came face to face with one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in Iceland. And on this windy and curvy road down this steep mountain valley, I spotted a unique waterfall with rocks surrounding it. The waterfall was only a short hike away from the road and there was a pull-in for the car and an almost overgrown little path leading down to the splashing water. Other cars were passing by without giving this beautiful waterfall more than a passing glance, but I simply had to stop.
I later found out that the waterfall is called Folaldalandsfoss, but despite it’s beauty, it wasn’t mentioned in my guidebook, nor was it on any of the many top – insert random number here – waterfalls of Iceland lists online. I felt like I had stumbled on something magnificent.
While you can photograph it from the small parking area with a zoom lens, it’s best to take the five minutes it takes to hike down to the waterfall and capture it close up. The water forms a pool, with another cascade of water exiting that pool and flowing downwards. One of my favourite shots was the one incorporating both the waterfall, as well as the cascade of water flowing out of the pool and showing the different steps the water takes. There are lots of boulders in the water, which you can climb to create different angles and shots. The best part is though, that since Folaldalandsfoss is somewhat remote and nobody knows about it, you have it all to yourself.
Angle: Seriously, I climbed all over that thing. I even almost fell in once or twice. Get close and personal by climbing on the boulders or stand back a bit and photograph the flow of the water.
What lens I used: I shot the waterfall close up with a Sigma 10-20 super-wide and also snapped away from the small pull-in with a 70-200.
Seljalandsfoss: A Waterfall you can Walk Behind in Southern Iceland
Oh Seljanlandsfoss, you made me sad. The day I planned to photograph this pretty waterfall that has often been called the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland, it just poured. It was like the doors of heaven opened up and decided to drown half of the island, me included. I got wet, the camera got even more wet and I was getting seriously worried about my equipment. All things considered, I was having a pretty rough time, I just couldn’t get a good photo and thus, I have been mopey about this place for a while. I even refused to edit my photos from that day for weeks. I was simply disappointed, because even though my photos might suggest otherwise, Seljalandsfoss is actually an AMAZING waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss tumbles over a hollow in the cliff in an elegant arch and since you can walk right around and behind the waterfall, you can actually capture it from every possible angle. The alcove behind the cascade is pretty awesome and also protected from the elements, so make sure to walk around the path and shoot it that direction too. Due to the mist, the grass around the pool of water is bright green and judging by some other photographers photos, for example this photo essay on the Huffington Post, sunset is an especially magical time.
Seljalandsfoss even looks cool when it’s about as hazy as a nordic steam room out there, but to protect the camera gear, it’s a great idea to simply move inside:
Angle: Climb the hill next to the waterfall for a shot showing the arch of the cascade tumbling over the cliff (see fist photo) or get behind the waterfall and shoot the alcove. Be aware that there is no path up the hill and during the high season it is actually roped off – you will have to literally go off the beaten path if you want this shot.
What lens I used: For me, it was super-wide all the way here! Although I think a fisheye lens would yield incredible results in that alcove behind the waterfall.
Kirkjufellsfoss: A Small, Tiered Waterfall with Incredible Views on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
So where is the incredible Kirkjufellsfoss located? The answer is on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. As this waterfall doesn’t exactly lie on the Ring Road and requires quite the detour, Kirkjufellsfoss is a more off the beaten path destination in Iceland. The pointy mountain named Kirkjufell is situated right on the coast next to a town called Grundarfjördur, and is actually another tiny peninsula on the much, much bigger Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s only attached to the mainland by a thin sliver of land and right off the main road separating Kirkjufell from the grassy fields beyond is Kirkjufellsfoss, the waterfall so often photographed in combination with the mountain. To get there, I think it’s best to just park in the small parking area right before crossing the bridge. However, when we were there the whole field was flooded, so we pulled into a tiny gravel road, which you can find about 200 meters to the west of the parking area. This little road goes right up to the waterfall, but is sometimes blocked off with a rope (walking up there is perfectly acceptable though).
Now, the place is frequented by a number of photographers who have all figured out, that the combination of waterfall and mountain in the background does indeed work very well. They are right of course and this particular scene makes for a stunning photo. Kirkjufellsfoss offers so many different angles and shots, that you will be busy moving around and taking photos for a while. It’s possible to get a ton of different compositions here: you can stand up at the ledge and shoot the curve of the river, go down to where the water splashes into the pool and get a low angle, shoot the gentle steps of the water flowing towards the sea and so on.
Angle: There are a ton of possible angles at Kirkjufellsfoss. The obvious one is just shooting the waterfall with the curve of the river and the mountain in the background. But go down to the pool of water for a lower angle, head down to the second tier of the waterfall and make sure to get a couple alternate shots in as well.
What lens I used: Once again I put the 10-20 super-wide on for this shot, but there are some good zoom opportunities to be had as well – for example: shoot towards Grundarfjördur and capture the town against the towering mountains in the background.
Skogafoss – a Thundering Beast of a Waterfall in Southern Iceland
Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland and can be found in Skogar along the southern coast of Iceland, just off the busy Ring Road. It’s hard to miss this one, as there is a big campground, parking lot, a couple hotels and usually several tour busses right out front. Skogafoss also marks the starting point of one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, so saying it gets crowded there is putting it mildly. If you want to have Iceland’s most famous waterfall to yourself, you have to show up either really early or really late, or avoid the high tourist season in July and August. Still, if there are a lot of people around, don’t despair quite yet, because other travellers actually add some much needed scale to the photo.
Stand back along the river with a zoom lens (I used the Canon 70-200mm for example) and just pick out some people you want to photograph. If they are wearing a colourful jacket, even better, as some bright dots of colour stand out nicely against the white water and the green landscape! This is the perfect activity to do when you get there during the day, it’s still a bit crowded and you’re just waiting for the light to get better. Having visitors standing close to Skogafoss and being dwarfed by the massive cascade of water while you shoot it from farther back, just shows the whole magnificent size of it all.
Once the golden and blue hours hit, most visitors start to file out, the tour busses leave and by the time the light is perfect for waterfall photography, there will probably only be a few dedicated photographers left.
Make sure to climb the little path that leads up the right side of the waterfall to a viewing platform. The platform itself can be skipped as the views aren’t that great and the waterfall definitely doesn’t photograph well from way up there, but about halfway up the stairs, there is a little dirt path leading to the left. There, you can get shots like this:
Don’t miss out and make sure you climb around on those cliff edges a bit!
Angles: As I said, there are so many different possible angles here that this waterfall can keep you busy for a whole day. Stand back along the river and shoot a landscape, then inch your way forward until the spray of the thundering water gets too much. After that, climb the cliff and shoot from above.
What lens I used: At Skogafoss I basically used everything I carried, from the 10-200 super wide and regular zooms to the 70-200.
Dettifoss – an Alien Waterfall in Northern Iceland
Dettifoss is located in Northern Iceland in the area of Lake Myvatn and the Geothermal Area. Both highway 862 (Dettifoss Rd) and 864 (Holsfjallavegur) lead there, but to different viewpoints on opposite sides of the waterfall. I had to take the latter one, as highway 862 was flooded due to the eruption of the Bardarbunga Volcano. As it turns out, I really liked the angle I got there. The infrastructure is pretty much limited to a parking lot, from where it’s a bit of a walk over a rocky landscape down to the waterfall.
Now, Dettifoss is an insane waterfall also known as the “Death Falls”. Europe’s most powerful waterfall reveals the full might of mother nature and as you watch the mass of water thundering over a 100 meter wide cliff edge, you kind of get where that charming name comes from. It’s not just the churning brown water, the endless pit of a valley – no, there is also the hurricane force wind blowing. All in all, the grey landscape looks completely alien, which is probably the reason why Dettifoss was used in that creepy opening scene of the Alien prequel Prometheus.
I’m usually ecstatic when I find a well known destination like this still completely wild: no railings, only a barely visible dirt path among the rocks and not a tourist in sight. But the strong gusts almost blew me over the edge and all I could think about was how long the fall down that Prometheus Waterfall would be.
Angles and what lens I used: So yes, you do have to get all personal with this waterfall and inch your way to that scary cliff edge – as long as you feel it is still safe. If not, it’s totally possible to get some good shots from further back as well. A sturdy tripod is definitely a good idea, as well as a wide angle lens to capture the whole width of it all. I brought a zoom lens as well, but didn’t end up using it at all.
So there you go guys, my five favourite waterfalls in Iceland. Work that camera bitches and have fun!